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Arkansas is home to three National Cemeteries and two Arkansas Veterans Cemeteries. Each serves as hallowed ground, where a profound sense of honor fills the air, and we remember the lives of many who’ve served our country.
Here, the stories of our nation’s heroes are etched into the meticulously maintained sites of serene spaces that honor veterans or those who died on active military duty and some family members. I find them a quiet and peaceful space to reflect, celebrate our country, and build a conversation with my son about the people buried here and why these cemeteries differ from other community spaces.
The national cemeteries in Arkansas serve as solemn reminders of the countless lives lost in the pursuit of freedom and justice. Their existence dates back to the Civil War, when the nation was divided, and battles were fought on its own soil. As the war escalated, the need for proper burial grounds became apparent, leading to the establishment of these hallowed sites. Arkansas National Cemeteries were part of the National Act in Feb. 1867. Before that, grounds were privately purchased and set aside on land adjacent to military hospitals and battlefields.
Each national cemetery in Arkansas carries a unique story, bearing witness to the sacrifices made by brave men and women in different periods of American history; the gravestones are a tangible connection to the past. As visitors wander through the rows of perfectly lined headstones, they face the substantial impact of war on individual lives and the collective memory of a nation.
Each memorial tells a unique story, immortalizing the sacrifices made by those who served our country. These symbols of remembrance go beyond mere plaques or gravestones – they encapsulate the spirit and values that continue to shape our nation.
Beyond the physical structures, the cemeteries are also home to countless stories waiting to be uncovered. Each headstone tells a unique tale of heroism, resilience and love for our country. From World War II veterans who survived harrowing battles to young soldiers who tragically lost their lives in the line of duty, the stories within these cemeteries offer a glimpse into the diverse experiences and backgrounds of those who served.
Fayetteville National Cemetery |1000 S. Lt. Col. Leroy Pond Avenue, Fayetteville
History: In 1867, the first five acres for the national cemetery were purchased from local residents. According to a sketch, the original layout of the cemetery is of an outer circle surrounding a six-pointed star with diamonds between the points of the star and a flagpole in the center. There were eighteen sections with an estimated capacity of 1,800 graves.” The first graves were all soldiers’ bodies gathered from nearby Civil War battles at Pea Ridge, Prairie Grove, and Elk Horn Tavern, mostly with unknown names.
Points of Interest: Carillon added after WWII, Revolutionary War Soldier Memorial, 1st Marine Division Memorial, Purple Heart Memorial, annual wreath ceremony is Dec. 16
522 Garland Avenue, Fort Smith | Website
History: On Christmas Day, 1817, soldiers built a fort on the bluff overlooking the convergence of the Arkansas and Poteau Rivers. The site of the fort served as a base camp for military troops serving to keep peace between the Cherokee and Osage tribes. Out of necessity, they designated a cemetery in a field nearby. In 1838, the Army permanently established a post at the Fort Smith site and following the Civil War, their burial grounds were elevated to an official national cemetery, using the grounds for fallen soldiers at skirmishes nearby.
Points of Interest: Carillon added after WWII, a memorial to the Unknown Confederate Dead, McIntosh-Steen Memorial, Vietnam Veterans Memorial, Pearl Harbor Memorial, annual wreath ceremony is Dec. 16
2523 Springer Blvd, Little Rock | Website
History: In 1862, following the battle of Pea Ridge, Union Troops occupied the capitol city for the remainder of the Civil War. The government purchased a plot of land inside the city cemetery for military use. In April 1868, as part of a national effort, bodies from the war were moved and interned in this section of the cemetery. Over time, a Confederate Cemetery developed nearby and in 1938, the deeded piece of land became the Confederate section of the National Cemetery.
Arkansas State Veterans Cemetery | 1501 West Maryland Avenue, North Little Rock
Arkansas State Veterans Cemetery-Birdeye | 3600 Highway 163, Birdeye
The grounds of National Cemeteries are typically open to the public from sunrise to sunset. The honor of these hallowed spaces makes them an easy spot for quiet and tranquility. I live near two of these locations, and when I’m in the area and have a little time, I like just to take a few moments and sit in my car, roll my window down, and enjoy the quiet of the moment.
The time for reflection lifts my heart to gratitude. I often say a prayer for the family of the name in front of me or for the Unknown Soldier whose life left a big question mark. On July 4th, this often serves as a place for me to help explain the significance of the holiday before we attend a fireworks event in our town. On Veteran’s Day, I like to drive through and just pause to reflect on my place in carrying the torch of the legacy of honor in this place.
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